In the last ten or so years I have discovered how woefully unfamiliar, unstudied, and unskilled that most people are who are called Methodist or Wesleyan concerning their peculiar doctrines. Most believe that the primary goal is to bring people to Christ and live holy. There is no objection to this, of course. However, the question is what makes one Christian association different from another. With orthodox Methodism, that is Bible Believing Methodism, there are some fundamental differences.
Those differences include the fact that we see baptism preformed by sprinkling, as well as one can commit apostasy from the faith. There are other differences such as Church government, which used to be Episcopal in nature, but today most conservative Methodists are more or less independent. This article will focus on still another difference, which is called the doctrine of Prevenient Grace.
Prevenient Grace is defined as the moving of the Holy Spirit in a person's life before he accepts Christ as his Savior. It is He that reproves man of his complete sinfulness, and shows man his need of Christ. It is the Spirit that moves into the hearts of man to woo, persuade, and convict him of his need for salvation. If any reformation takes place in a sinner's life, it is due to the operation of the Holy Spirit, and not any good works of man.
Of Prevenient Grace Dr. Pope says, "The work of the Holy Spirit must now be viewed as preparing the soul for admission into the consummate blessings of the covenant of grace: a work which He accomplishes, not absolutely as He imparts those blessings themselves, but as quickening, aiding and directing the energies of the free will of man to seek them. The preparation, when viewed in relation to His agency, is Preliminary Grace; in respect to man, it tends to secure compliance with the conditions of the covenant. In all sound doctrine on this subject there must be a certain combination of the Divine element and the human. The result is seen in Conversion, Repentance, and Faith, in their unity, distinctness, and mutual relations, all which belong to the sphere of the Spirit's prevenient influence."(1)
But does this doctrine of prevenient grace appear in the Scriptures? The Scriptures must be our final proof of the matter. Dr. Pope says of this question, "The manifestation of Divine influence which precedes the full regenerate life receives no special name in Scripture; but it is so described as to warrant the designation usually given it of Prevenient Grace."(2) Let's look to the Scriptures.
In Gen 6:3 we find: "And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man..." There may be other interpretations and applications of this passage. However, here we can see the work of the Spirit as he tries to strive with man to bring mankind to God. Even at this early age of the earth we can see God's Spirit of grace moving in the affairs of man.
John 6:44 says "No man can come to me, except the father which hath sent me draw him:..." Here again we can see how the Spirit of grace operates. It is the Spirit that works to bring a person to Christ. John Wesley says of this verse, "No man can believe in Christ, unless God give him power. He draws us first by good desires, not by compulsion, not by laying the will under any necessity; but by the strong and sweet, yet still resistible, motions of His Heavenly grace"(3)
After paraphrasing Wesley on this passage Joseph Benson makes these observations concerning the drawing power of prevenient grace. He says, "That the expression, applied to reasonable agents, does not import any force or constraint is plain from Jer. 31:3, where God says to Israel, 'With loving kindness have I drawn thee;' that is, by the manifold benefits which I have bestowed on thee, and particularly by the revelation of my will committed to thee, and have prevailed with thee to obey. Thus also our Lord uses the expression in John 12:32 'If I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me;' that is, being put to death on the cross, and raised from the dead, and exalted into heaven, and preached through the world, I will, by my word and Spirit, persuade many to follow me to heaven. Thus also, in Hosea 11:4 God says, 'he drew Israel with the cords of a man, with bands of love.' Wherefore by the father's drawing men to Christ we may understand his persuading them to believe on him, by the several proofs wherewith he has supported his mission, by the doctrine of his gospel, and by those influences of his grace, which are necessary to give men a right discernment of the evidence of religion, and of the certainty and importance of the great truths of it, and to impress these things deeply on their minds. Accordingly, in the following verse, the effect which the Father's drawing hath upon men, is described by their hearing and learning of him. 'It is written in the prophets, they shall be all taught of God.'"(4)
We find in the Book of I Corinthians 9:22 "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." What a beautiful truth. The Spirit strives with all men on whatever level they may be found. The whole desire of Christ and the Spirit of grace is to bring all men to Him.
Again Dr. Pope commented on this grace and said that it precedes all men by the preaching of the Gospel. "The Word of Truth is never without the influence of the Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost the first Christian sermon was preached with His accompanying power: they spoke, first indeed only to God but afterwards to man, 'as the Spirit gave them utterance.' (Acts 2:4) Nothing less than this is meant by the reference to the 'Word of God which effectually worketh' (I Thess. 2:13) in those that believe, and to the Gospel which came 'not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost.'"(5)
So the Christian faith is unlike any other religion. It is the power of God that accompanies the proclamation of the Gospel that is in the world working to bring all to him. It is not by the fancy twists that today's modern can bring to it. It does not come by giving certain styles of invitations at the end of the service. It is Spirit driven. The Spirit of God's grace precedes the gospel everywhere in the world. It touches the lowest of individuals. It gives hope to the hopeless. It gives light to those who are filled with gloom and darkness. It is the treasure for which the poor are looking. It is the inner peace that mankind has been seeking. It is the blessed hope that all who believe on Christ can become a child of the King.
Let's turn our attention to some Biblical examples of how this prevenient grace works.
On the day of Pentecost thousands of people were gathered in Jerusalem. The Spirit descended upon the disciples and they began to preach. There were people there from many other countries. These people where "devout men." As the disciples preached, they all heard in their own language. At the conclusion of the sermons the Bible says, "they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Acts 2:37 These were devout men who daily sought God. It was prevenient grace that continued to draw them and give them the thirst for real religion. Upon hearing the Gospel, they realized it to be true and the kind of sinners they were. They sought good advice and received the salvation that their hearts were longing for.
We also have the case of Cornelius. Here was "A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always." Acts 10:2 Yet, Cornelius is not a saved man, even with all his good works of praying and alms giving. Still we see the work of God's preceding grace moving in his life to bring Cornelius to Himself. He answers his prayers by telling him where to find Peter. When Peter comes, he reaps a harvest that only the Holy Spirit can give. Because of the work of prevenient grace, Cornelius gladly received Christ into his heart.
We might add to this growing list of people whose life was greatly affect by prevenient grace a woman by the name of Lydia. As Paul prayed by the river he spoke to some women who gathered there. A woman, Lydia by name, heard that he was there and went to meet him. The Bible says that she "worshiped God, heard us, whose heart the Lord opened, that she attend unto the things which were spoken of Paul." Acts 16:14 The Spirit of grace, prevenient grace, went before and when Paul arrived she came to a complete knowledge in Him and was saved. Not just her, but her whole household too.
Also, we could add to this list one who is simply named the "the Philippian jailer." He too was moved by the praying and singing of Paul and Silas. When the earthquake came and found all the prisoners safe in their cells, he knelt at the feet of Paul and Silas and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Acts 16:30 Wesley says of this verse, "'Sirs' - He did not style them so the day before. 'What must I do to be saved?' - From the guilt I feel, and the vengeance I fear. Undoubtedly God then set his sins in array before him, and convinced him in the clearest and strongest manner that the wrath of God abode upon him."(6)
Rev. Norman Brush, an old time Methodist preacher, also commented on Prevenient Grace. In an article published in The Arminian he said this. "... in chapter 17:4 at Thessalonica we find devout Greeks, and chief women who were under prevenient grace waiting to be told of the gift of saving Grace, and at Berea the Bible searchers were hungry to hear Gods's Word, and at Athens men were ignorantly worshiping the unknown god and certain men cleave unto Paul and believed on Jesus. At Ephesus in chapter 19 the grace of God preceded Paul's preaching of Christ, but they were not New Testament Christians until Paul came and sensed their lack of the Spirit (which was a lower experience than the New Testament afforded) and exhorted them to be baptized in the name of Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, thus bringing up to the New Testament standard."(7)
In conclusion, we can say that though Prevenient Grace can be resisted, and it is God's way of working out His salvation in you. If it were not for prevenient grace, we would not have the ability to become His children; we would all be dead in our sins and trespasses. John Wesley, in his sermon on "Working Out Our Own Salvation," puts this doctrine into context. "If God worketh in you, then work out your own salvation. The original word, rendered work out, implies the doing a thing thoroughly. Your own; for you yourselves must do this, or it will be left undone forever. Your own salvation: Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God. Salvation is carried on by convincing grace, usually in Scripture termed repentance; which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther deliverance from the heart of stone. Afterwards we experience the proper Christian salvation; whereby "through grace," we "are saved by faith;" consisting of those two grand branches, justification and sanctification. By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, and restored to the favor of God; by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God. All experience, as well as Scripture, show this salvation to be both instantaneous and gradual. It begins the moment we are justified, in the holy, humble, gentle, patient love of God and man. It gradually increases from that moment as "a grain of mustard-seed, which, at first, is the least of all seeds," but afterwards puts forth larger branches, and becomes a great tree; till, in another instant, the heart is cleansed from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man. But even that love increases more and more, till we "grow up in all things into Him that is our head;" till we attain "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."(8)
1. William B.Pope, A Compendium of Christian Theology (London: Wesleyan Conference Office 1877), p 358.
2. Ibid. p 359
3. John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon The New Testament (London:The Epworth Press,reprint 1966), pp. 328-329
4. Joseph Benson, Benson's Commentary (NY:George Lane and Levi Scott 1850) pp. 564-565
5. Pope, p. 362
6. Wesley, p. 565
7. E. Norman Brush, "Prevenient Grace in the Book of Acts," The Arminian Magazine Vol. 1, No. 7, "1987", p. not given.
8. John Wesley, Works of Wesley, (Ohio: Schmul Publishers, 1978), Vol. 6, p. 509back
Pastor Hartman has been in the ministry for twenty six years. He graduated from the Institute of Christian Service of Bob Jones University. He also holds B.S. and M.S degrees from Columbus State University. His has traveled once to Russia, three times to the Ukraine, twice to England in a humble effort to help the missionaries spread the Gospel of Christ. If you would like to contact Pastor Hartman, please feel free to do so.